A pair of chefs prepares treats for the eyes (City Arts 3/10)

This month’s inspiration: “Blind Mary” by Gnarls Barkley

Chef Brian Cartenuto, who regaled us with talk of female genitalia during last month’s Dish-Off, said “the eyes have it” when I asked him for a song suggestion for this month’s round. Pulling out his MP3 player, he dialed right to Gnarls Barkley’s “Blind Mary,” telling City Arts that he loves the unique sound of the Danger Mouse/Cee-Lo Green collaboration, and the song’s story about a guy who loves a girl because she’s blind and doesn’t know he’s ugly. Mary can’t judge him by his looks, so he has “absolutely nothing to hide, because I’m so much prettier inside.” So what did this month’s chefs see in “Blind Mary”? 

Earth & Ocean: Seared Scallops, Black-Eyed Pea Chole, Cumin Carrot Nage

EarthandOceanChef Adam Stevenson focuses on the “Blind” in “Blind Mary.” He presents a plate of scallops to represent Mary; although scallops have about 60 eyes in rows around the mantle, they are essentially blind, as the bright blue eyes are primitive and can only detect light and motion. Reasoning that “Mary obviously needs help with her eyesight to entice the one she loves,” Stevenson serves black-eyed peas to provide sight to the scallops. Beta carotene from the carrot puree improves the vision to ensure that Mary can finally see her lover. The result is healthy for the eyes, but also happy for the taste buds, as the scallops are seared perfectly, and the slight spiciness of the beans (along with the cumin that accompanies the carrots) counters the inherent sweetness of both the scallop and the carrots. The dish is pretty on the outside (celery leaves, thin-sliced radishes, and orange slices complete the presentation), but also tells a story while showcasing elements from both earth and ocean.

Tilikum Place Cafe: Pomegranate-Braised Lamb Shank

TilikumThe dish at Tilikum Place Cafe is so beautiful that only Chef Ba Culbert’s explanation makes me realize she’s focusing on the line “She has no idea I’m ugly.” Culbert says that the shank isn’t the most attractive piece of meat to serve, and that she wanted to use gnarly (get it?!) vegetables as well. Potatoes, she suggests, are ugly and simple, but “they’re more complex than you might think.” I am thrilled that her quest for ugliness meant inclusion of cardoons (with their artichoke-like flavor) prepared three ways: caramelized, creamed into a sauce, and fried (the leaf) to show off the vegetable’s seductive bitterness. Culbert then turns positive, pointing out that the pomegranate is considered the crown jewel of the fruit world. It’s important in religious tradition, often depicted in paintings in the hands of the Virgin Mary. The scattered pomegranate seeds and the braising juice lend a tangy sweetness to a simply delicious dish that would surely open both the Virgin Mary’s and Blind Mary’s eyes.

Photos by Rina Jordan. (Click to enlarge them.)

Note: Dish-Off reviews are based on announced visits. Restaurants get guidelines and choose what to serve according to the month’s song.

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